Any dog owner will tell you that we can use a food reward as a motivation to change a dog’s behaviour. But humans are just as susceptible to rewards too.
When we get a reward, special pathways in our brain become activated. Not only does this feel good, but the activation also leads us to seek out more rewarding stimuli.
But there is more to reward than physiology: differences in how often and when we get rewarded can also have a big impact on our experience of reward. In turn, this influences the likelihood that we will engage in that activity again. Psychologists describe these as schedules of reinforcement.
Addiction used to be seen in the context of substance use, and there is indeed substantial evidence for the role of reward pathways in alcohol and other drug addiction.
Obviously, the nature of addiction is complex. But more recently, there is evidence of addiction that can be based on behaviour, rather than ingesting a substance.
– Rachel Grieve and Emily Lowe-Calverley